Report: Chad rebel leader accepts ceasefire

General Mahamat Nouri, the main leader of Chadian rebels in control of large parts of the capital, Ndjamena, has accepted a ceasefire proposed by Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi, Libyan news agency Jana reported.

The rebels seized Ndjamena on Saturday after intense fighting with government forces, military and rebel sources said, as President Idriss Déby Itno remained holed up in the presidential palace.

In a telephone conversation, Nouri “agreed to a ceasefire and talks to put into practice the Sirte peace accord” signed in October by rebels and the government of President Idriss Déby Itno, Jana said.

Gadaffi was mandated by the African Union together with Congolese leader Denis Sassou Nguesso to negotiate an end to the crisis, which on Saturday saw rebels seize large parts of Ndjamena.

Earlier on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for a truce and negotiations between Chad’s government and rebel forces.

He said that, in a phone conversation with Déby Itno, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had expressed the hope “that there would be a truce, negotiations and an agreement, and we maintain that position”.

When asked about the situation in Ndjamena, under siege by the rebels while Déby Itno remained in the presidential palace, Kouchner said: “For the moment, it is a fast-moving situation.
That’s the most we can say. We will have to see what develops.”

Speaking in an interview on state French television, he strongly condemned the rebels, calling their offensive a “brutal attack on a legal government, against an elected president”.

“We strongly condemn it, as does all the international community, in particular the African Union,” Kouchner said.

He said that France, the former colonial power in the Central African nation, had not been formally asked by Déby Itno to provide military assistance and that this would not be covered by Franco-Chadian accords.

“We are supporting those in power, we are supporting legality; we have not been asked for anything more,” he said, adding that Déby Itno had asked Sarkozy “simply” to “deal with the injured, to take care of them, and that is what we are doing”.

“They are technical agreements, cooperation agreements, not defence agreements that we have signed with this country,” Kouchner said.

Evacuations

The United States urged Americans visiting Chad to consider leaving the country on Saturday as its embassy ordered the evacuation of some staff and families amid the rebel offensive in the capital.

The US State Department issued a travel alert “to warn American citizens of the deteriorating security situation in Chad”, saying: “US citizens should defer non-essential travel to Chad at this time, and US citizens in Chad should consider departing.”

France’s Defence Minister, Herve Morin, said the first group of foreigners wanting to leave Chad was to be flown out on Saturday night. He said that so far about 200 foreigners had said they wanted to go. A first group was being flown from Ndjamena to Libreville, Gabon, on a French military transport plane on Saturday night.

Austria was considering withdrawing some of its soldiers deployed to Chad as part of an European Union peacekeeping force, due to the heavy fighting in the region, Defence Minister Norbert Darabos told an Austrian daily in an interview to be published on Sunday.

Defence Ministry spokesperson Stefan Hirsch said earlier that 17 Austrian soldiers were in Chad as part of an advance unit that had arrived on Wednesday to prepare the ground for the rest of the 160-strong contingent, which was due to arrive in the next few weeks.

Most of the Austrian troops were still in Ndjamena, but some had already moved on to Abeche in the east of the country, where the EU mission is to be deployed.—Sapa-AFP

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